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Jun 24, 2006:

20/20 Commentary

FARM REPORT by Gary Jacobs

‘I’m Just Lost Right Now’

Pawtucket Red Sox starter Abe Alvarez delivers a pitch to the Indianapolis Indians during the first inning of a minor league baseball game Thursday, April 6, 2006, in Pawtucket

(Reuters Photo)

JUNE 26, 2006 | PAWTUCKET -- Abe Alvarez couldn't have picked a worse time to lose his way.

Amid the backdrop of the recent promotions of Jon Lester, Manny Delcarmen, and Craig Hansen, and Red Sox manager Terry Francona's pronouncement that barring injury the McCoy-Fenway Express would be shut down for the time being, Alvarez -- finding himself back at McCoy -- had one job: to focus on pitching.

Alvarez had spent the first part of the season virtually unhittable in Pawtucket: He started off the season a blistering 5-0 with a 2.18 ERA for the PawSox, and his ticket appeared punched for The Show. But after a mediocre performance for the Red Sox in mop-up duty against Philadelphia this past May 21, he was sent back to McCoy and since then it's been all downhill for the personable young lefty.

As of today, Alvarez stands at 5-3, with a decidedly pedestrian 4.46 ERA. Most of his appearances since the demotion have been short and ugly: 4 IP, 4 ER in a loss May 26; 5 2/3 IP, 4 ER in a loss June 1; 6 2/3 IP, 3 ER in a no-decision June 6; a return to form on June 11 when he gave up just one ER in seven innings pitched in a no-decision; 4 1/3 IP, 7 ER in a no-decision June 17; and this past Friday's 3.2 IP, 7 ER performance.

Alvarez has no answers for his recent decline.

"I have no idea -- I'm just lost right now," said Alvarez after Friday's game. "I don't know what's going on, pretty much. I'm not making any excuses -- I'm in a rut, and when you're in a rut, you need to find your way out…you just struggle with it until it's gone."

PawSox manager Ron Johnson makes the point that although Alvarez has not brought his A game of late, his numbers don't tell the full story.

"The game in Richmond [June 17], the numbers were much worse than the outing would show," says Johnson. "You saw a lot of swinging bunts, jam shots into right field -- he just got well placed to death. Now [Friday's game,] if you break down his outing -- he was behind, I'm not saying it was good -- but if you take out [three mistake pitches], it's not like he got beat up real bad out there. But those accounted for a lot of runs. So it wasn't his best -- but he probably could have had a better fate than his numbers would show."

For Alvarez's part, he can pinpoint at least one deficiency in his game, though he's at a loss as to how to correct it.

"I haven't thrown a lot of first-pitch strikes, and that's the main thing. You throw a lot of first pitch strikes, you're ahead most of the time, and that's one thing I know I haven't done. I don't know if it's mechanically or if it's in my head but it's the one thing I've noticed."

Alvarez has the arsenal to be a major-league pitcher. His fastball (mid-80s) is just fast enough to make his changeup a formidable weapon. He's got an above-average breaking ball that he's improved over the last two seasons. The consensus is that there's a spot somewhere in the Bigs for him. Before that happens, he needs to get out of his recent doldrums. Johnson is confident he will.

"There's no doubt in my mind he will rebound and come back," he said. "And you know what? When Abe has an outing like this, when you look at it from a positive standpoint, that means there's a real good outing coming. Because he doesn't have a lot of them like this."

Gary can be reached at farmreport@cox.net.



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